Rarely can one kick have had such an immediate impact on the outcome of a national championship game.

The luckless punter was North Harbour's first five-eighth Michael Hobbs who, 12 minutes into the second half of an entertaining, rousing contest at North Harbour Stadium, launched a clearing kick downfield from inside his 22.

The northerly breeze then cleared its throat and the ball bounced, rolled, bobbled its way beyond the Waikato dead ball line.

Back they came for the scrum, and Waikato prop Toby Smith barrelled across the tryline; two minutes later halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and wing Declan O'Donnell combined slickly down the left from 65 metres out and 12-11 to Harbour had become 25-12 to the visitors, who then eased clear.


This was a crossover game - premiership visitors against championship hosts - and it may well have ended up as it did, without the Hobbs hop, skip and bobble. Waikato unquestionably finished on the front foot, but Harbour certainly showed plenty of cheek to last year's ITM Cup runners up.

They had the better of the first half, scored a fine opening try, the ball shifting through several pairs of hands before Nafi Tuitavake crossed the line, and have backs such as Tuitavake, Francis Saili, David Raikuna, Cory Aporo and perky halfback Bryn Hall with the pace and skills to worry opposing teams this season - providing they get quality ball in the right situations.

It took Waikato time to get their lines right. Once they did, a combination of strong running, cohesion and self belief - helped, it should be added, by moments of meek defence - was more than sufficient to get them a bonus-point victory and sets them up for another impressive campaign.

You won't find his name on the scoresheet but lock Chris Middleton got through a power of work, captain and No 8 Alex Bradley was an influential figure, while Jackson Willison, Tim Mikkelson and Kerr-Barlow were incisive figures out the back.

"Our defence was lacking. Both backs and forwards were leaking tackles. They were getting good gain line and it was hard for us to stop their momentum," Harbour co-captain Ben Afeaki said.

All true, but Harbour showed enough that once they come up against fellow second-tier championship sides they should be in business this season. First though, there's defending cup champions Canterbury in Christchurch next Saturday.


Waikato: Tim Mikkelson, Toby Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Alex Bradley, Brendon Leonard, Kalem Chan Boon tries; Trent Renata 2 pen, 3 con


North Harbour: Nafi Tuitavake, James Parsons, Brenton Helleur tries; Michael Hobbs con, Codey Rei con, Luke Devcich pen HT: 11-7